Two Men, Two Deaths, Two Years Apart

Tonight’s post is a short one.  Ten years ago today, my Watch Officer, Captain Sean Brock, was killed in a mortar attack.  As well, 8 years ago today, my father-in-law passed away, days before I was slated to return stateside from my second deployment.  Their losses were such uniquely different experiences and while I know we die, it’s hard not to think of all the things they’ve missed in the years since.

Captain Brock, USMC

As an enlisted junior Marine, I was not a close acquaintance to Capt. Brock.  Officers and enlisted service members are not to fraternize with one another; however, there are moments where officers and enlisted members work closely with one another that you see more of each other’s personalities, work ethic, and teamwork capabilities.  We worked in close quarters near one another in our Combat Operations Center.  We had two Watch Officers (day and night) and a Senior Watch Officer .  Captain Brock was our Day Watch Officer and I worked with him for several months until my shift changed over to night crew.  He was like us, the NCO and below group, a person who would use the personal computer station to send emails home.  I spent a significant portion of my time writing on my Myspace page, which was popular back in 2004-2005.

His death was quite a shock to me, even though our base had been mortared frequently before.  I was on the phone with my grandmother when I heard the mortar land.  It was one of those situations where you keep the conversation going so as to not frighten the other person on the line.  You say your goodbyes, quite meaningfully and then are thankful “nothing bad happened.”  Until I was informed that something had happened.  I don’t remember at what time we were informed Captain Brock died as a result of his injuries but the environment in the room changed.  We lost one of our own.  Not that the other casualties we covered in activity reports didn’t matter, but this time, the loss was incredibly personal.  The energy changed.  We realized we had been lucky up until this point.  It was frustrating as well to sit behind a screen and see the details we normally posted on our activity reports, as though the screen taunted us with this information.  However, we still had work to do and we had to sit and wait for new activity reports to be generated to stop this one from haunting us.

I was twenty at the time; Captain Brock was only 29.  I am fortunate, as best one could say, to not be among the members of the Quick Reaction Force that saw Captain Brock in his injured state.  I think my heart would have forever been broken had I been there in that moment.  The Marine Corps trains you for so many things, but holding onto that person to keep them alive, comforting them in their last moments, and being with them when they pass over, it’s not something in our job description.  It’s just something we may be asked to do and Marines do it because they love each other.

One of my Corporals, Corporal Vaughn, and I were tasked with burning Capt. Brock’s cover [hat] and holster.  It was a quiet, respectful task assigned to us; I’m not sure why us, but that’s what happened.  Others might find it dreadful but it was also peaceful in a way.  You just watch the material burn away slowly.  It was probably the only time I would say I saw Vaughn exhibit maturity in a way I knew he was capable of and a reverence I’m often told is prevalent to infantrymen.

I know Captain Brock didn’t get a lifetime of marriage to his wife, Heather.  He never became a father.  He never went on to complete his other educational goals.  I think one of the things that made me the most sad about his loss was knowing what impact his death likely had on his twin.  I am a twin myself and when you grow up as a set of children, birthdays are interesting.  You might have those moments where you feel unnoticed because the day isn’t all about you.  Then when you get older, you realize how wonderful it is to always have someone to share this day with and now, his brother doesn’t get to enjoy this privilege.  Maybe they planned a birthday adventure of some sort and Captain Brock never fulfilled that dream.

Jay Rinehart, Father-in-Law, Army Veteran

Two years after Captain Brock’s death, I was faced with the unexpected news my father-in-law, Jay, passed away.  I was on my second deployment, this time to Camp Al Asad, Iraq.  Thomas and I married on June 23, 2006 and I deployed on July 14th, the day I earned my Good Conduct medal.  Jay had not attended our wedding as we had a Justice of the Peace ceremony in San Diego and he lived in Wyoming.  Thomas’ mother and stepfather served as our witnesses; none of my family members could come out on short notice.

I only met Jay once before I deployed.  In many ways, he reminded me of my own father.  Although he divorced Thomas’ mother early in Thomas’ childhood, he still maintained a good relationship with his former mother-in-law and tended to her needs.  I loved that quality about him.  It was also fun for me to see how Thomas interacted with his father.

On my deployment, Jay sent me a box of different Christmas sausage items for the holidays that I shared with my crew.  It was the only present and note he ever sent me.  However, his simple gesture made my Christmas.

I got the news of Jay’s death in an email from my mother-in-law.  It felt like the world stopped.  I was in one of the internet centers, which was incredibly noisy, and was trying to digest this news.  I could barely keep myself from crying and struggled to compose myself all the way to my command’s building.  I kind of lost it there, knowing my husband wherever he was on his own deployment was receiving this same news.

I was home in time for Jay’s funeral service.  MAG-16, the unit I deployed with, made sure of it.  The combined efforts of many people to get me on a flight home was nothing short of incredible.  I appreciated their genuine concern for my loss and diligence to ensure I was by my husband’s side when he needed it most.

Thomas and I are coming up on our 9th wedding anniversary and it’s hard not to think of what Jay has missed.  He never meet his two other granddaughters-our daughter and my newest niece on Thomas’ side of the family born in 2012.  He didn’t get the pleasure of welcoming Thomas back home from his yearlong deployment.  He didn’t go to Crete, as had been one of his goals.  I didn’t get to know him very well to find about all the dreams he had, but I hope if only in some small way, we go to Crete one day to honor his memory.

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